The Japan Metagame Diaries: Origins Game Day
I would have preferred to write about Origins Game Day right after last weekend, but I’ve been pretty busy traveling this week. I went to Hamamatsu, Shizuoka twice (once with a friend on Monday to go shopping, and once with my wife on Wednesday). I was searching for good deals and found a few (more on that in my next Puca Pals article). Since my last article about the Nagoya metagame in July, the meta has changed considerably. We went from Mardu Dragons and Mardu Midrange in the last part of July back to Abzan Midrange and GR Ramp decks in early August. Jeskai and UR Thopter decks have recently pushed their way into standard around here, but they’ve yet to become dominant as they have in some places around Tokyo.
Up until Origins Game Day, I had been playing around with my GW Collected Company deck. There had been good days and bad ones, but recently more of the former. I’ve worked on it a lot with some members of my Cardboard Samurai Group, but the biggest change came about thanks to my good friend Kal.
|Anafenza’s Dance Party 2015|
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Blossoming Sands
2 Mana Confluence
4 Windswept Heath
4 Warden of the First Tree
|3 Collected Company
3 Dromoka’s Command
2 Chord of Calling
2 Valorous Stance
10 other spells
15 sideboard cards
The newest build seeks to go from a deck wanting to ram creatures down your throat to a deck wanting to emulate previous standard toolbox/creature combo decks such as Birthing Pod. The most noticeable change from last month has been to include Chord of Calling in the deck instead of Feat of Resistance. Feat had some nice synergy with the +1/+1 counter theme, but it seemed to be overkill without pushing that much of an advantage. Having Chord main lets the deck react quickly to changes to the board state and find answers to cards you’d otherwise lose to. This can create huge tempo swings in your favor if you play them right. My three choices for the current metagame are: Abzan Falconer, Reclamation Sage, and Hushwing Gryff.
I think Reclamation Sage is a no-brainer. Being able to search for a way to destroy your opponents Ensoul Artifact or Sigil of the Empty Throne is very useful in the current meta. I feel there will always be a target for this guy no matter what deck you’re playing against. He hits Courser of Kruphix in green midrange decks, gets rid of Ghostfire Blades in UR Thopters, and even gives you a mainboard answer to Jeskai Ascendancy match ups. I did have to cut a Dromoka’s Command in order to fit him in, but he basically does the same thing and can be tutored as well.
I originally played the Gryff in order stop Dragonlord Atarka from wiping my board against GR decks, but when Rally the Ancestor and Reanimation decks became more popular, the Gryff really pulled its weight. It even reduces the power of GW Starfield of Nyx enchantment decks by shutting down card advantage from Eidolon of Blossoms (and sometimes Doomwake Giant if they are playing an Abzan build). Sometimes you just straight out lose game one against Rally decks because you can’t stop the combo, but this deck gives you a silver bullet to stop it with. Again, this can end up being a huge tempo swing when played at the right moment.
I talked about Abzan Falconer a little bit in my last article, and he remains just as effective in the new build as he did before. However, instead of having 2 so I can hit him more easily with Collected Company, Chord of Calling lets me grab him when I need to. Suddenly giving your entire team with counters flying to block a squadron of Thopters or going over the head of GR Ramp decks for an alpha strike can be huge. It still catches opponents off guard when I play it, and leads to quite a lot of wins.
The sideboard has also undergone a change. I’ve added both Aegis of the Gods (gives you hexproof) and Phyrexian Revoker to the mix to try and combat both burn and control. Aegis might not be that great, but being able to buy you a turn by fizzling a burn spell or Thoughtseize at instant speed thanks Chord and then suck up a piece of removal is worth a one of. As for Revoker, he’s in direct response to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Ugin absolutely wrecks this deck if your opponent gets him out, so let him play the card, then Chord for Revoker in response and shut him down. Revoker shuts down a variety of other activated abilities from other planeswalkers and also keeps a Hangarback Walker small so I think it’s a good addition.
The drawback of playing a Toolbox deck with various “silver bullets” means that you can be in trouble if they die, but that’s why a card like Den Protector is so great in this build. Having to make room for these extra cards meant cutting a 4th Dromoka’s Command a my 4th Avatar of the Resolute, but neither of those choices have affected me adversely yet. The deck has been able to mulligan to 5 or 4 cards and still manage to win the game on the back of powerful draws and card advantage from Collected Company.
The deck isn’t also without some pitfalls. I struggled during the first few weeks going through 23 or 24 land builds, and 24 seems to be much better so that you hit 4 mana for a CoCo, and also so you can quickly use each cards ability such as Warden of the First Tree’s or Fleecemane Lion’s. The switch from scry lands to the gain lands is also necessary I think. You lose the ability to fix your draws somewhat, but the life gain really helps against mono red or burn decks when life is needed.
Starting the first week after my last article, I went 3-0 at a 10 person late night FNM beating Jeskai Tempo, GW Enchantments, and BR Dragons. Abzan Falconer won me quite a few games, and Dromoka’s Command was very bad news for GW Enchantment decks. My addition of Windstorm also did a great job against Thunderbreak Regent and UR Thopters alike. I also was able to put the new Gideon to the test and he worked out really well against a wide variety of decks if I got him out early.
In a slightly bigger 25 person event I went 2-3, losing to a Goblin Obelisk deck due to lack of board wipes to take out my opponent’s army of goblin tokens, and I also lost to Esper Dragons when I couldn’t draw my Windstorm to stop his Icefall Regents, Silumgars, and Ojutais. The following week at another FNM with 16 players, I went 1-2 due to experimenting with 23 lands again. I was able to beat GR Devotion that week by playing really fast, but UW Control destroyed me because of Ugin (wasn’t playing Revoker at the time), and then lost to GR Dragons in the following game due to mana problems.
The most recent results of the deck was at a midnight Game Day with 38 players. This was with the currently build you see above, and I was pretty happy with the results. I went 4-2, JUST missing out on the top 8 but felt like the deck was very close to being optimized in its current form. I beat Esper Pact Control round 1 off a mulligan to 5 in game one, then beat UR thopters thanks to Anafenza and Abzan Falconer in 3 games. I lost to a GW Enchantments deck by keeping a questionable hand and mana flooding, and then was totally overwhelmed with removal against UB control. He either countered or killed everything I played. I had to win the rest of my games to have a chance, and I did beating both UR Tutelage (thanks GW Command!) and RW aggro (curved out and puts ton of pressure on opponent while overwhelming his removal).
The top 8 of the Game day was actually only a Top 6 because 2 players quit to go home and sleep. The remaining decks were: UB control, GW Megamorph, GR Atarka Ramp, UB control, GR Atarka Ramp, and RW Heroic.
Awakening the Animist
Green/White Collected Company isn’t the only deck I’ve been working on over the last few weekends. My little pet project since Origins was released was to build a deck centered around lands. No, I don’t mean a deck that plays ONLY lands (that’s impossible in standard if you want to win). What I mean is a deck that uses lands to it’s advantage. I call it, Zendikar’s Retribution.
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Wooded Foothills
4 Evolving Wilds
|4 Crater’s Claws
2 Sword of the Animist
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
2 Zendikar’s Roil
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
12 other spells
15 sideboard cards
The deck is basically a GR Ramp deck that goes about ramping somewhat differently. Instead of using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to ramp into a large Hydra or to empty your hand, this deck’s strategy is to dig through your deck for land quickly. Most ramp decks play 4 Courser of Kruphix, Elvish Mystic, and Rattleclaw Mystic/Sylvan Caryatid, but Zendikar’s Retribution takes it one step further with Sword of the Animist.
This card has been downright sweet in testing for me. It’s a re-useable Rampant Growth and is the cornerstone of this deck. Instead of playing with 4 Whisperwood Elementals, I’ve forgone that strategy for 2 Swords and 2 Zendikar’s Roil. Whisperwood might have a more immediate impact on the battlefield and provide a safety net against board wipes, but Sword + Roil = inevitability. You get a 2/2 elemental whenever you play a land or attack with a creature equipped with Sword of Animist, but that’s that not the only interaction. The synergy between Sword and the rest of this deck can NOT be understated.
- Courser of Kruphix – playing 4 of these with a Sword assures that you are gaining life multiple times almost every turn. This is great against burn, red aggro, UR thopter, and any other aggressive deck.
- Nissa, Vastwood Seer – It’s not being unrealistic to flip Nissa on turn 5 after 2 attacks with a Sword user. Being able to flip her quickly gives you incredible card advantage, especially with Courser in play.
- Hammer of Purphoros – this is a new addition, but it seems like a good idea. This strategy wants to pull land out of your deck in order to fuel Zendikar’s Roil and to play Atarka quickly, but what do you do when you have all that land just sitting there? You got the 2/2 Elemental when playing the land, why not sacrifice it and get a 3/3 Golem out of it as well? Leave nothing to waste.
- Nissa, Worldwaker – you don’t really want to have too many Nissas in one deck, but I feel like the Worldwaker is good as a one of. Turn those extra lands into 4/4 creatures and build up a huge army.
There are so many things this deck can do that mirror GR Atarka Ramp and G/R devotion, but I think it can do it better. Where I think GR Lands/Ramp deviates and does better is in card advantage. Filtering out all of your lands quickly leads to powerful draws, and flipping your Nissa, Vastwood Seer quickly with a Courser in play makes it very tough for your opponent to gain the upper hand. Crater’s Claw also becomes an almost one hit kill later in the game with the amount of mana you have in play along with a Xenagos on a few creatures. Speaking of Xenagos, his ultimate is amazing if you have a Zendikar’s Roil and Hammer in play. Not to downplay his +1 ability either because it quickly makes a large amount of mana in this type of set up.
If you’ve played GR Ramp then the mainboard might not be anything new (aside from the Sword and Roil). The sideboard of this deck, however, is probably the last part that needs help. I feel pretty good about the main board, but I’m not sure I have the SB worked out just yet. The cards set in stone are Anger of the Gods (aggro decks such as UR Thopters), Hornet’s Nest (again, good for aggro decks), and Gaea’s Revenge (perfect for control match ups). I’m not sure about the rest.
Arbor Colossus seems like a good card to have in GR ramp match ups, and Destructive Revelry seems to better than Unravel the Aether just because I don’t want decks that draw well (UR Tutelage, GW Enchantments, etc) to be able to get the card back in their hands quickly. The last 4 cards, Purphoros, Windstorm, and Outpost Siege, are what I’m not sure about. Purphoros is in there for control decks that don’t deal well with direct damage, and Windstorm is extra insurance against Dragon based decks such as Esper or Mardu Dragons (but also is pretty good for the UR Thopter match ups). Outpost Siege is in there for control decks, but I wonder if it’s too redundant. I’m already getting great card advantage from Courser and Nissa, so perhaps these two spots would be better used for something else. I’m considering Back to Nature to deal with enchantment heavy decks, but other than that I’m not sure where this deck’s weaknesses lie. It’s all going to come down to testing . . .
The deck’s first outing was at a 24 person standard weekend tournament in the first week of August here in Nagoya and it did pretty well. The card advantage helped me to beat an Abzan company deck in round one (Roil’s 2/2 elemental tokens also played a big part), and in round 2 I beat a Jeskai Tokens deck after sideboarding thanks to Anger of the Gods wiping his board. I most likely could have won the final round as well if I hadn’t have made a misplay while blocking. In round 3 I faced another Abzan Aggro/company deck and I had no idea that Warden of the First Tree’s 6 mana activation could be done multiple times. This led to my downfall in an otherwise close game. A 2-1 record wasn’t bad though.
I thought the deck was ready and took it to 2 Game Days last weekend, but I was proven wrong. Well, the problem wasn’t so much in the deck as it was with the player. I have very little experience with it and kept quite a few bad hands. I either kept a slow hand, or kept a 2 land hand with no mana creatures.
On Saturday, 8/8 I played in a 28 person Game Day. In round 1 I lost to Abzan control, then in round 2 I lost to GR Dragons. Siding in incorrectly against GR Dragons is what did me in, however I did end up emptying my hands and comboing out one game with Roil, Xenagos, and Nissa. I picked up a tie in round 3 against Abzan Rally due to my opponent’s slow play (had the win on the board), got a bye in round 4, and beat BR Tokens in round 5. I went 2-2-1 due to my mistakes, but the deck showed a lot of promise. The TOP 8 of this event was Mardu Dragons, Mono red artifacts, GW Enchantments, Mardu Midrange, GR Atarka Ramp, Jeskai Tempo/Burn, Atarka Red aggro, and UG aggro.
On Sunday I played at my local game store near my apartment due to its later start time, and only 13 people showed up. I got a bye in round 1, tied a GB Dredge/Reanimator deck (Den Protector + Nighthowler), then beat a Mono red aggro deck thanks to multiple Coursers and Sword. I was able to intentionally draw into the top 4 to get my promo card, but I was absolutely humiliated by GR Atarka ramp in the semifinals. I had to mulligan to 4 due to bad mana, while my opponent curved out and absolutely spanked me. The second game didn’t go much better as I mana flooded. I finished 2-1-2 that day. The Top 4 of this event was: GR Ramp/Lands (me), GR Atarka Ramp, Temur Midrange, and White Devotion.
With the Modern PPTQ season drawing to a close, standard is going to take center stage and become incredibly competitive here in Japan. New decks are popping up all the time, and the metagame is ever shifting. The World Magic Cup Qualifiers are also coming up soon, with Nagoya’s tournament only a month away on September 19th. I will push forward with both of my decks and try to take them past their limits. I believe in capable hands they can compete with some of the best decks out there, but I’ll have to push myself to learn their inner workings and tweak them to their optimal levels.
I hope that you, my readers, give these decks a chance and find ways to make them even stronger. If you do, please be sure to come back and share any changes or results that you get with them. Thanks for reading and I hope to have some more content coming your way after the weekend! Good luck to everybody playing in a Grand Prix, PPTQ, or other large tournament!